Stybar disappointed to miss cyclo-cross World Championships

Etixx-QuickStep rider eyeing Tour de France debut

Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) will close out his reign as cyclo-cross world champion in three weeks after confirming that he won’t be racing at the World Championships in Tabor, Czech Republic. Stybar has said that a shoulder injury sustained in a crash in October means he will be unable to defend his title at the start of next month.

“My shoulder doesn’t let me,” he explained at the team’s training camp on Wednesday. “Here I was first to jump over some hole in the road and it hurt so much that I couldn’t imagine riding cyclo-cross where it is very bumpy, or even because it is the right shoulder and I put my bike on my right shoulder. I don’t see it as being really realistic. The World Championships are in three weeks so it’s impossible.”

Stybar won his third world title in Hoogerheide, the Netherlands last February, riding away from pre-race favourite Sven Nys on the final lap. He made his debut in the rainbow jersey at the GP Mario De Clercq in early October despite a serious crash at the Eneco Tour. However, another heavy fall at the Kermiscross in Ardooie four days later resulted in a separated shoulder and he was forced to put the remainder of his 'cross season on hold.

“I’m really very disappointed because I was really looking forward to it,” he said. “I love to race in 'cross during Christmas. It’s kind of a tradition on the 25th December to leave the family and go to the hotel and get ready for the race in Zolder. This year, I missed that. It is really disappointing because everything is ready, you have beautiful bikes, a beautiful jersey but the jersey stays clean and white in the closet and the bikes stay in the garage.”

The two crashes set Stybar back a little bit in terms of his preparation but – jumping potholes aside – the same injury that has prevented the 29-year-old from defending his world title hasn’t impacted on his form on the road. “The past tests show me that this is a good level at the moment. I am not afraid of that and I just hope that I can build up further into the first races,” said Stybar.

Provided he can keep himself injury-free, Stybar has plans to be in Utrecht at the beginning of July for the start of the Tour de France. Mark Cavendish and Michal Kwiatkowski are likely to head the team’s ambitions and the Czech rider accepts that he’ll have to be on top of his game to earn selection. If he was to make the nine-man squad it would be his debut at the Tour, but Stybar doesn’t want to be there to make up the numbers.

“It would mean a lot to me and I hope to be there but I must fit into the team and I must be in top shape. I don’t want to go there to participate, I want to go there with the ambition to win a stage.”

Stybar will begin his year at the Vuelta a Murcia on February 14, followed by the Votla ao Algarve before embarking on his third classics season. He made his debut at the cobbled classics in 2013 where he made it into the race-winning move at Paris-Roubaix before a collision with a fan put him out of contention. He took fifth in the Hell of the North last season, confirming him as a genuine favourite in 2015 but Stybar hopes for more than just a good Paris-Roubaix.

“I think that the past two seasons have shown me that Paris-Roubaix is the best for me,” said Stybar. “But I would still really like to show that I can do races like [E3] Harelbeke and the Tour of Flanders. You must be lucky and you must be in shape. We are really a strong team and we must win as a team. We have to think a bit about ourselves but we also have to think as a team.”

Having a strong team is no guarantee of success, as the team have learned to their detriment. Omega Pharma-QuickStep went into the Classics with one of the strongest line-ups but it faltered at the Tour of Flanders where they had four riders in the key move but still missed out on the podium. “I think we have to learn a little bit from that," Stybar said.

“Last year, it was such a hard race that it was very close, and then it opened up a bit, and then it came together again and that happened for the whole race. We will see what we will do this year. Right now we can imagine hundreds of scenarios of how the race will go but we have to show that we are in top shape. Maybe there will be another top team and all the pressure will be on their team.” But it is hard to imagine another team that could bring the same depth to the cobbles.

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